The Power of a Name

By Cathy Ziengs
Buddhistdoor Global | 2012-01-01 |

Dandelion seeds. Did you ever pick a dandelion plant on a warm summer day, and hold it to the sky, and blow the soft seeds into the gentle breeze?

So many light and fluffy pieces released from their base into an airborne journey that will lead to new life sprouting elsewhere…

The random stories we encounter in daily life:  vacation chats, family histories, chapters in a book, news events - are often like this… thought seeds that float through the mind and plant themselves into our conceptual world with images and sprouting perceptions.

This past week two articles crossed my editorial desk that raised the subject of names, and their special influences on different forms of practice. One writer shared his feelings about the importance of a Dharma name and living up to the responsibility bestowed by a patient teacher. How can a dharma name serve as a light beacon to illuminate the path of conscientious practice? Another writer mused on the various kinds of labeling names that individuals carry throughout their lives. These serve as intermittent punctuations in the stages of an individual life and call attention to the impermanence of usage. Like dandelion seeds, the stories about “names” and their significance, were softly floating around in the background of my thought world.

This morning however, naming took on a new definition after reading a news story from America. “NIKE Air Jordan 11 Retro Concord” as a name, for some people during the Christmas shopping season took on a coveted new meaning. According to the report, thousands of shoppers in a mall in Washington state (USA) stampeded a store to be first in line to purchase the latest crave in NIKE sports shoes: the “Air Jordan 11 Retro Concord” basketball shoe. In an effort to subdue the 2,000 crazed shoppers, police officers used tear gas on the crowd. What a shock to read the news story and what stuck me most was the power of a name. Strong emotions. Strong attachment. Brand-naming gone berserk.

We had eaten a nice peaceful breakfast in a quiet country hotel in Holland. Surprise had arrived via the international news sheet! Morning debate turned to the story at hand. Our family life spans three cultures and locations (Asian, European, and American) and table dialogue often comes from many different perspectives. My teenage son in Hong Kong is just as brand-conscious as his friends and cousins in America, but the NIKE story was another matter altogether in the realm of extremes. The store stampede showed how emotions had flamed out of control and the power of branding in consumer cultures. This gave new meaning to the word “covet”. We were all in awe of the demand for a sports shoe, and the mentality of the mob. The violent force of the American story seemed so far away from our quiet setting, yet nagging in its reality and tug on our consciousness.

This story seed that floated into our lives introduced a cautionary tale. It offered a chance to review our own fanciful desires, “how did we feel about pursuing brand names?”  Living in Hong Kong and travelling the world, it is natural to be aware of brand name products and the enticing marketing campaigns in consumer cultures. So many international names are recognized throughout the world. My son learns to weigh his personal choices against others in the peer arena around him. The power of brand names can be a great seduction to gaining ‘satisfaction’ in ownership of the goods. Who doesn’t know the name of NIKE?

Tomorrow we travel to America and the land of abundant shopping malls and holiday sales. ‘To shop, or not to shop,’ begs the question. What do we desire to have? Do we actually need to buy anything at all? And where are those Air Jordan 11 Retro Concords anyway? Ha. NIKE, Adidas, Converse, and the no-name brand of sports shoe… the choices are abundant. Have you ever heard, and perhaps enjoyed, that phrase “retail therapy”? This psychological process soothes our journey to accumulation. Imagine what kind of therapy the stampede-2000 will need to recover from their pepper-spray trauma?

Powerful, isn’t it... the desirous attachments to ‘things’ in our conceptual world? These are wonderful occasions to look into our minds and recognize some truths about craving and emotions. Even just the word “name” can carry so many different meanings. Meanings that can lift up, bring down, and evaporate into dimensions of change.

Emotional thrills of acquiring lead to a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. At some point, all that accumulation feels empty and uneasy, as if an itch is never scratched. Take stock of the mental process and the power of a name. In so doing, we may awaken further and see the driving forces. Do we always wish for more, or try to resist the urges?

It is quiet here in the countryside; helpful for reflection. The seeds that floated in today with the breeze of daily news delivered a gift to consider. Temptation and contentment are two very different soils for planting. Let the seedlings take root in a positive manner and nurture growth for more awareness.

I want to recognize the pull of my desires and temper it with wisdom. At some point I learn that I have enough, and let go of all the rest. The potential rests within a grateful heart, and not upon the feet in the shape of a fashionable shoe.

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